Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Q. What should I look for in buying a house?

Assuming the house is in the right location for you should ideally employ a competent independent person to inspect and report, this would be an Architect, Engineer or Building Surveyor. While the Help My House service is designed to respond to specific concerns the Architects are competent and experienced in carrying out fuller inspections and you should expect to pay around €300 to €500 + VAT for this type of service, which includes a full written report.  However before you get too interested you could have a preliminary look under the 12 headings listed below. The list is in rough order of priority:
1) The Structure should be sound  and if any walls have a noticeable lean on them..be careful and definitely get advice. All things are fixable but here is where costs can escalate. Cracking pattern will also tell about settlement issues (i.e soft ground). 

2) The bathroom and toilet provision is probably substandard if the house is old. Broken and smelly drains cannot be ignored and any new bathrooms, toilets or shower rooms need to be carefully and efficiently planned so that daylight is not stolen form bedrooms and living areas. 
3) Insulation levels need examination. Any property over 30 years old would probably have poor insulation unless upgrade works were done. Better building insulation simply means more comfort and less bills. Draughty doors and windows might also need repair or replacement.
4) Central heating system will need examination. Older systems might work but are inefficient and upgrade works normally pays off soon. Replacement of pipework can be disruptive but if other works are being done also it'll be worth it. 
5) Sound insulation should be considered, especially in semi-detached or terraced houses. Maybe you are a light sleeper and the teenage kid next door likes death metal at high volume. Upgrade works can of course be carried out and there are acoustic plasterboards for such cases. 
6) General workmanship needs examination. While we expect and get high levels of craftsmanship from Victorian and Edwardian times modern buildings can suffer from shoddy workmanship. Bearing in mind that much of the structure is unseen poor standards of finish suggest an equal carelessness in concealed areas like cavity wall insulations.
7) Fire safety is important and upstairs bedroom windows should be large enough to escape from. Also if an attic room is provided to a two storey house then the matter becomes even more urgent. Install a mains powered smoke alarm if you do nothing else. 
8) Ground conditions and moisture penetration need examination. Ensure the enthusiastic gardener has not heaped up soil too high against the house and as a result bridged damp to the wall. Some houses are set into hills and suffer when the weather is very wet. This can be alleviated by careful installation of damp proof courses and french drains etc. 
9) The ventilation of the living and bedrooms needs examination. Humidity controlled wall vents are a great recent invention as they allow a room to "breath" while closing over automatically when necessary. Steamy areas like the bathroom and the cooker hood need steam extraction, otherwise condensation can occur in a cold poorly ventilated corner of a room. 
10) The plumbing might be checked out. Gone are the days when the family of 12 queued up on a Saturday night for the bath (in the same water!). Now we want power showers for our frequent usage. This puts more pressure on hot and cold water supplies. Perhaps when the water charges come we'll be back to the Saturday night event. 
11) The stairs should be sound and even. In some Victorian artisan houses the bottom of the stairs rots because the timbers are in contact with damp ground  and finally 
12) Consider access for those with disabilities. Your elderly mother in  wheelchair may want to come for the sunday roast and so level access should ideally be provided. Remember also that what's good for a wheelchair is good for a child's buggy too.
 When you have examined the above items you should be able to complete a very intelligent and helpful check list for your professional.  AB

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